By Samantha Hendrickson
Ohio authorities on Friday released bodycam video showing a police officer fatally shooting Ta’Kiya Young in her car in what her family denounced as a “gross misuse of power and authority” against the pregnant Black mother.
Sean Walton, an attorney representing Young's family, said the video clearly shows that the Aug. 24 shooting of the 21-year-old woman was unjustified and he called for the officer to be fired and charged immediately. Walton also criticized police for not releasing the video footage for more than a week after the shooting.
“Ta’Kiya’s family is heartbroken," Walton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “The video did nothing but confirm their fears that Ta’Kiya was murdered unjustifiably ... and it was just heartbreaking for them to see Ta’Kiya having her life taken away under such ridiculous circumstances.”
A spokesman for the police union said calls to charge the officer before an investigation is complete are premature. The officer is on paid administrative leave while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation examines the shooting, which is standard practice. A second officer who was on the scene has returned to active duty. Their names, races and ranks have not been released.
Blendon Township Police Chief John Belford called the shooting a tragedy.
“Ms. Young’s family is understandably very upset and grieving,” he said in a written statement released Friday morning. "While none of us can fully understand the depths of their pain, all of us can remember them in our prayers and give them the time and space to deal with this heartbreaking turn of events.”
Young’s death follows a troubling series of fatal shootings of Black adults and children by Ohio police and numerous occurrences of police brutality against Black people across the nation in recent years, events that have prompted widespread protests and demands for police reform.
Young’s father, grandmother and other relatives watched the video before its public release and released a statement Friday through Walton.
“It is undeniable that Ta’Kiya’s death was not only avoidable, but also a gross misuse of power and authority,” the statement said. While viewing the video, the family felt “a lot of anger, a lot of frustration,” Walton told The Associated Press.
“More than anything, there was ... a sense of just devastation, to know that this power system, these police officers, could stop her and so quickly take her life for no justifiable reason.”
The video shows an officer at the driver’s side window telling Young she has been accused of theft and repeatedly demanding that she get out of the car. A second officer is standing in front of the car.
Young protests, and the first officer repeats his demand. Young then turns the steering wheel to her right and the car moves toward the officer standing in front of it, who fires his gun through the windshield. Young's sedan then drifts into the grocery store’s brick wall.
Officers then break the driver's side window, which Belford said was to get Young out of the car and render medical aid, though footage of medical assistance was not provided.
In his interview with the AP on Friday, Walton denied that Young had stolen anything from the grocery store. He said his firm found a witness who saw Young put down bottles of alcohol as she left the store.
“The bottles were left in the store," he said. "So when she’s in her car denying that, that’s accurate. She did not commit any theft, and so these officers were not even within their right to place her under arrest, let alone take her life.”
Brian Steel, executive vice president of the union representing Blendon Township police, called Walton a “modern-day ambulance chaser” and criticized his characterization of the shooting as a murder while the investigation is still ongoing and all of the facts have yet to be established.
Steel said in a phone interview that the case will almost certainly be presented to a grand jury for a decision on whether to file charges against the officer, but he declined to say whether Young’s death was justified. “The fact is (the officer) had to make a split-second decision while in front of a moving vehicle, a 2,000-pound weapon,” he said.
Responding to criticism of the delay in releasing the video, Belford said it took time for his small staff to process it and properly redact certain footage, such as officers’ faces and badge numbers, in accordance with Ohio law.
He said the officers’ names cannot be released at this point because they are being treated as assault victims. He said one of the officer’s arms was still partially in the driver’s side window and a second officer was still standing in front of the car when Young moved the car forward.
Young's death is one of numerous deaths of Black adults and children at the hands of police across the nation that have drawn protests and demands for more accountability. Among the most prominent cases was George Floyd's death on May 25, 2020. Floyd died after then-Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pressed a knee on his neck for 9 1/2 minutes on the street outside a convenience store where Floyd tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder.
In Ohio, Donovan Lewis was lying on his bed in August 2022 when he was shot by a K-9 officer serving a warrant. Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old girl in foster care who was accused of swinging at two people with a knife, was fatally shot in April 2021, minutes before the guilty verdict was announced for the Minnesota police involved in the death of George Floyd. In December 2020, Casey Goodson Jr., was shot five times in the back by a Franklin County sheriff’s deputy.
Ohio Families Unite for Political Action and Change, a grassroots organization focused on eradicating police brutality, said the footage shows officers’ conduct was “violent, defenseless, and egregious" and that they acted as “judge, jury and executioner.”
“We are in pain for her family, our community, and all families impacted by police brutality who are re-traumatized upon viewing yet another murder by police in Ohio," the group said in a statement emailed to the AP.
Young was expected to give birth to a daughter in November. Family and friends held a private vigil a day after Young was killed, releasing balloons and lighting candles spelling out “RIP Kiya.” An online effort to pay her funeral expenses has raised over $7,000.
Ta’Kiya’s siblings, cousins, grandmother and father have rallied around her sons, 6-year-old Ja’Kobie and 3-year-old Ja’Kenlie, who don’t yet understand the magnitude of what happened to their mother, Walton said.
“It’s a large family and Ta’Kiya has been snatched away from them,” Walton said. “I think the entire family is still in shock.”
Young's grandmother, Nadine Young, described her granddaughter as a family-oriented prankster who was a loving older sister and mother.
“She was so excited to have this little girl,” the grandmother said at a news conference Wednesday. “She has her two little boys, but she was so fired up to have this girl. She is going to be so missed.”
“I’m a mess because it’s just tragic,” she said, “but it should have never ever ever happened.”
Associated Press writers Aaron Morrison in New York; Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia; Michael Rubinkam in northeastern Pennsylvania; and video journalist Patrick Orsagos in Columbus contributed to this report.
Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.